Stuart McNair

Three memorable drives to win games en route to Alabama national championships

Alabama QBs Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron, and Jake Coker led clutch drives

At a dinner tonight I will be introducing the speaker, former Alabama quarterback and now SEC Network, ESPN, and SiriusXM Radio analyst Greg McElroy. It made me think of a memorable drive in his command in his first year as Bama’s starting QB. Without it there would have been no 2009 national championship for the Crimson Tide.


Alabama went into Auburn with an 11-0 record that year, but trailed 21-10 when the Tide forced and Auburn punt and had the ball at its 21-yard line with 8:27 to play.


The two-minute offense was not in play.


Trent Richardson was at tailback for Mark Ingram and gained seven yards on first down, but the rest of the drive would be Greg McElroy. He got four consecutive first downs on passes to Julio Jones to move Bama to the Auburn 28. A pass completion to Richardson gained 16 to the Auburn 11 for another first down.


Richardson ran for four yards and Auburn called time out with 1:34 to play. Richardson ran again for three yards and the Tigers again called time out, now with 1:29.


Alabama also called timeout with 1:29. The plan was to run the ball to the middle of the field and then, if necessary, have Leigh Tiffin kick a short field goal. But Alabama Coach Nick Saban overruled the call.


Alabama ran a play action to the right side and Roy Upchurch slipped into the flat, where McElroy hit him for the touchdown and a 26-21 lead. The drive had taken just over seven minutes.


The two-point conversion try failed, but the Alabama defense held on for Bama’s win.


From there it was just a matter of defeating No. 1 Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and No. 2 Texas in the BCS National Championship Game for an undefeated season and the national title.


That brings to mind two other fantastic, game-winning drives in the Saban Era which enabled Bama to win national championships.


In 2912 at Baton Rouge, Alabama trailed LSU by 17-14 after the Tigers missed a 45-yard field goal with a minute and 34 seconds to play. The Tide had the ball at its own 28.


AJ McCarron was at quarterback and Kevin Norwood was an outside receiver and the two combined on three straight first down passes to start the drive. The first went for 18 yards, the second for 15, and the third for 11. Alabama had moved from its own 28 to the LSU 28 in only 23 seconds.


After an incomplete pass, intended for Norwood in the end zone, T.J. Yeldon slipped out of the end zone, took a short pass from McCarron, and went those last 28 yards for the touchdown. With 51 seconds to play, Bama had a 21-17 lead, and the defense would preserve it.


Bama would lose to Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel, 24-29, the next week, but crush Western Kentucky and Auburn by identical 49-0 scores, hold on to win the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, and then  crush Notre Dame for the national title.


Alabama had all sorts of trouble with Tennessee in Tuscaloosa last season. Bama already had its back to the wall after having lost an early season game to Ole Miss in Bryant-Denny Stadium. By the Fourth Saturday in October (as was the case in 2015), Jake Coker had established himself as the Crimson Tide quarterback, and he would cement that spot with his fourth quarter performance.


Alabama was nursing a 13-7 lead when Tennessee went on a lightning-quick drive, two Joshua Dobbs passes for 61 yards and then Jalen Hurd running at right end for 12 yards and a touchdown with 5:49 to play.


Alabama got the ball back at its 29 after a Kenyan Drake kickoff return (and for some reason the clock didn’t start during his return, so Bama still had 5:49 when starting its drive).


it did not start well with Coker being sacked on first down. But on second down his right sideline pass was hauled in on a fine catch by ArDarius Stewart. Derrick Henry ran a couple of times for only four yards, and then Coker went to the left sideline and Calvin Ridley for a 15-yard gain.


Coker then made three great handoffs to Henry. The Heisman Trophy winner went 6 yards to the UT 19 and then 5 yards to the 14 and a first down. He then went at left end and into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. The two-point try failed, but Bama was up by 19-14.


The defense allowed nothing, and took the ball away from the Vols with a Ryan Anderson strip and A’Shawn Robinson recovery, and the Tide was able to take a knee three times after first-and-goal at the 4.


Bama, of course, went on to defeat Florida in the SEC Championship Game and advance to the College Football Playoffs, defeating Michigan State and Clemson to claim the national title.


Those drives made for fun rides.

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